Nuts have gotten a bad rap over the years. Though the number of children developing nut allergies seems to be growing, for most people, eating almonds, peanuts*, cashews and other nuts has long been linked to a better diet, healthier weight and fewer risks for heart attacks and strokes, among other things. Now comes word from the National Center for Health Statistics that the consumption of nuts tends to decrease among children in the U.S. as they get older.
Previous studies in adults have shown that eating nuts leads to a lower risk for cardiovascular disease as well as a condition known as metabolic syndrome—particularly if you eat them out of your hand and not as part of a candy bar. Children and adolescents who eat nuts as part of a healthy diet are also less likely to be overweight.
Thoroughly chewing each individual nut (25 to 40 times) promotes a sense of fullness in participants involved in a 2009 study, which may also help explain their benefits for maintaining a healthy weight—at least in some people.
Some of the drop in nut consumption may be attributed to costs—especially among poorer families—or the increase in nut allergies. But more of it seems to be linked to the fear that many parents and physicians have: that giving children nuts to eat before the age of two or three could actually trigger a nut allergy or that they might later contribute to gaining weight.
The latest evidence suggests that food allergies are more likely if infants are given any solid foods—including nuts—before six months of age. Waiting longer does not seem to have an effect most of the time. And anybody who chews an almond 25 times is bound to eat less food in the first place.
*Although peanuts are technically a legume, the US government considers them nuts for data-reporting purposes.